The New Blood panel at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is always a highlight of the weekend. Hosted by Val McDermid and hand-picked by the doyenne of British crime writing, it’s an enlightening, fun and often inspirational session. This year’s winner of the Theakstons Crime Novel Of The Year – Clare Mackintosh – appeared on this panel last year, lest we forget.
Appearing this year was Swedish writer Martin Holmen, whose debut book Clinch is set in 1930s Stockholm and mixes Nordic Noir with traditional American noir and pulp tropes; JS Law, speaking about his one-location whodunit set on a submarine; Beth Lewis, whose extraordinary debut, The Wolf Road, is already gaining wide critical acclaim; and Abir Mukherjee, who transplants an English detective into Raj-era India.
As Val said in her introduction, these four books are interesting and fresh takes on the crime novel, with strong senses of place and take the reader somewhere to locations that seem almost other-worldly.
As ever the session was fun and enlightening, charting each author’s path to publication and inspiration for their stories.
The Wolf Road features a character (Elka) surviving in a post-apocolyptic North American wilderness that lives (because of her distinct voice, language and narration) long in the memory. This is mainly down to almost an Irvin Welsh-style use of colloquial language; an almsot entirely new language, in fact. Beth explained that she had always been a fan of novels from the Deep South, whose rhythms always leant themselves to easy, flowing storytelling, and when she finally ‘got’ Elka’s voice it wouldn’t leave her. She found that she began to text and email in her style.
For Martin, the first non-British author to be featured on the panel, his research uncovered… well, nothing. Looking for stories about homosexual men in 1930s, working-class Stockholm, he found no stories or reference points in the archives. This, he said, actually gave him a greater creative freedom when it came to moulding his main character.
Abir Mukherjee was entertaining and extolled the virtues of hands-on, on-the-ground research (he went to Calcutta and found out things he couldn’t have found on Google) and James, who regaled the audience with, ahem, interesting tales of naval life (he was once a naval officer), and said the one thing that encapsulates crime fiction and why we all love it: there are simply no good and bad people, and it’s often the good people who do bad things.